For the past year, a Chinese firm named Huawei has been making headlines. Last December, several of its employees were charged by the U.S. Department of Justice with espionage and violating the sanctions against Iran. More recently, the firm, one of the largest global suppliers of 5G wireless networks with 30 percent of the world’s telecommunications market, has become a pawn in U.S.-China trade negotiations. Our national security may be at stake.
The U.S. government has canceled orders and replaced currently installed systems that can be used as spyware or possibly be used to sabotage our electric grid. While it calls itself a private company, it is unlikely to be true. That’s because Chinese law requires all companies subject to its jurisdiction to secretly comply with requests for information from the Chinese intelligence services.
That possibility opens up a fairly giant size can of worms, especially for Western democracies. In the U.S., Huawei products could spy on individuals, businesses, military installations, and critical infrastructure through back door secret access. As Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission recently wrote in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal:
“When it comes to 5G and America’s security, we can’t afford to take a risk and hope for the best. We need to make sure our networks won’t harm our national security, threaten our economic security or undermine our values.”
The federal government’s response to Huawei will require an all-hands-on-deck effort including input from the intelligence and law enforcement communities, the military, business interests, and privacy advocates along with diplomatic and trade representatives.
The FCC is already proposing banning U.S. companies that receive federal subsidies from purchasing Huawei products. Congress passed a law last year that bans federal agencies from buying Huawei products or from doing business with contractors that buy from the firm. In those cases where the Chinese products have already been installed, they will probably have to be replaced. Huawei has sued the federal government for passing what it alleges is a violation of the U.S. Constitution and that the government is damaging the Chinese firm’s reputation.
Pressure is being placed on the company by Australia, Japan and the European Union. All are concerned with cybersecurity risks. On the other hand, India claims the security risks are overstated and may end up purchasing the Chinese firm’s lower cost products. Britain, Germany and the United Arab Emirates are pushing back against U.S. pressure not to buy from Huawei. So far, Huawei has estimated a loss of $30 billion in revenue directly linked to the U.S. campaign.
Still to be determined is whether President Trump, in an attempt to sign a trade agreement with China, will give up the U.S. effort to stymy Huawei’s global ambitions. Any such trade agreement would have to be ratified by the Senate. If Trump were to sell out U.S. security interests for a trade deal, one would hope it would be too much for Republicans in the Senate to accept. But in today’s polarized political environment, nothing is guaranteed.
Tom Coleman represented Missouri as a Republican in the United States House from 1976-1993. He has taught as an adjunct professor at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and at American University in Washington, D.C.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.